Monday, 31 December 2012

2012: A style retrospective

It's that time of year where all the mainstream media are busy filling column inches with lists of stuff from 2012 - from best movies to worst political mishaps. After a relaxing and laptop-less Christmas break, I thought I might as well seize the opportunity to get in on the action. So here is a hastily assembled selection of notable style 'stuff' from the past year.

Least hideously dressed Apprentice contestant
The nice thing about The Apprentice is the certainty of the format: there will always be essentially the same set of tasks, most of the contestants will be frighteningly deluded about their own abilities, and all of the men will be appallingly badly dressed in one of a handful of separately ghastly ways. It's rare, nay unheard-of, for me to watch the show and think "I might actually go out in public in what that chap's wearing". This year, however, was an exception. Ladies and Gents, I give you Mr Tom Gearing.



Modern cutaway collars, tie bars, a pocket square in a colour other than white, and a matte tie with a discrete pattern tied with a sensible knot, all give his outfits personality whether or not they happen to be your particular cup of tea. More than anything, though, I love the fact that he's wearing a suit that's not plain (shiny) blue, grey or black. I have a particular personal dislike for plain coloured suits most of the time (though there are obviously exceptions) and anything that adds a little bit of texture is good news.

Best dressed movie character
The latest James Bond divided style bloggers. Many loved his restrained British dress sense, others bemoaned the strangely tight fit of his suits, which looked as if he was almost ready to burst out of them. For myself, both factors felt like deliberate choices, illustrating either side of his conflicted character: a suave English gentleman, and a violent, muscled, goon. Regardless, it's hard not to love those beautiful Tom Ford suits.


I'm not normally a fan of the restricted palette that Bond wears - plain blue shirts with plain grey suits rarely look great, and a plain blue tie on top risks looking bland, but of course that is partly the point when one is a spy. In this case, the costume-designers lift the outfit out of mediocrity with restrained touches of personal style: a slightly broader than usual herringbone on the suit, a quirky but oh-so-2012 tabbed collar, and a neat, businesslike pocket square. If everyone dressed like this for work, the world would be a better place.

Best Oscars black-tie outfit
The terrific Black Tie Guide website does a far better break-down of the hits and misses of the red carpet than I could hope to, and has done so for several years. All the same, I was struck by one particular outfit that couldn't go without a mention. Hollywood royalty looking like Hollywood royalty, it's Tom hanks:


It's a double-breasted shawl-collared dinner suit, and yes, that's 'legal' though highly unusual. It's by far the most casual dinner jacket, a mere toggle and trim away from a smoking jacket, which is itself only one step removed from a dressing gown, and historically would be appropriate only at a very private dinner in ones own home. These days, that distinction is rarely important and certainly not at the Academy Awards where merely wearing a bow tie and a white shirt makes you one of the smartest men there. No, Tom Hanks has got everything right - from the beautifully proportioned suit to the simple white pocket square and the inch of cuff. If I were to be picky, I would personally wear a slightly smaller bow tie, but that's a personal choice, and doesn't detract at all from the most classically elegant outfit seen at the Academy Awards in quite some time.



Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Perfect gift 3 - Style books

Always a good option for the chap who likes his clothes but is too difficult to actually buy clothes for (and the two things tend to go together) - there's a fairly large crop of style books out there, which range from the desperately earnest to the wry and self-aware, from the trite to the informative, and from the densely written to those who's main appeal is in their pictures. Here are a selection of my favourites, all of which have also been more thoroughly reviewed previously in the blog.

Debrett's Guide for the Modern Gentleman (full review)
Definitely a favourite, and one of the few that may actually contain some useful information even for those who prefer not to get their dress sense from a book. It covers a huge range of topics including how to order a suit from a tailor, a selection of home-decoration styles, and lists of must-have music, films and books. Its flaw is that it covers few of the topics in any real detail, but it's attractive, amusing and diverse, and may actually be of some help to someone about to leap into an unfamiliar situation like a weekend shooting party, or a Savile Row tailor.

Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion (full review)
More of a coffee-table book than a real guide, it's hard to quite figure out who would find this book genuinely useful except, perhaps, for a man who simultaneously won the lottery and was overcome by a powerful desire to develop the perfect male wardrobe. All the same, noone with an interest in clothes can fail to enjoy the detailed breakdown of every possible outfit and clothing type, nor to be suddenly struck by the feeling that their existing wardrobe is hopelessly inadequate.
Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion (Lifestyle)

Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed (full review)
Unlike the others, this is less of a coffee-table book and more of a read-in-a-single-sitting page-turner. If you have any interest in bespoke suits then you will find Richard Anderson's description of the techniques, secrets and characters of Savile Row absolutely fascinating. You will also crave a bespoke suit. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Shoes: Chatham Marine Deck Shoes review

A couple of summers ago, I bought my first pair of deck shoes. Unless you're the sort of chap who can stomach the thought of wearing loafers without socks all summer, deck shoes are really the best option for wearing with shorts or casual trousers. While they won't be acceptable in a city club, they're pretty much de rigeur in many yacht clubs and, dressed up with chinos and a shirt, are unlikely to be frowned upon in most restaurants. Especially if you're within a mile of the sea or the temperature is over 30 degrees.

All of that was my thinking as I prepared for a mostly fictional summer of beaches, cocktails, sunbathing, and lounging by pools. A pleasingly fashionable pair of blue suede deck shoes from Charles Tyrwhitt followed and, given the undemanding purposes to which I meant to put them, I didn't really care when the insole came loose within a week and a year later, the soles started falling off. Now, unfortunately, they're completely unweareable so it was extremely timely to receive a new pair from Chatham Marine, a company with a proper sailing heritage and enough confidence in their products to provide the classic deck shoes with a two year guarantee.

And, of course, it's only the wrong season for deck shoes if you think their main purpose is protecting your feet as you stroll up the beach for another mojito. As an enthusiastic but reasonably infrequent sailor myself, I tend to forget that good deck shoes have really been carefully designed and built to wear on a boat. Their distinctive white soles are designed not to mark the white fiberglass that most modern boats are made of, and are cut in patterns known as 'siping'; jagged, razor-thin cuts that open up as you walk and create suction (and therefore grip) on a smooth surface. Fashion deck shoes may look the same, but if they're not constructed properly they'll be worse than useless on a slippery deck.

The insole on these is not only properly secured, thank goodness, but also includes a double-layer perforated edge which, I presume, helps air to circulate under the feet. The upper is made of sturdy leather in a rich, reddish-brown, double-stitched and embossed with a very discreet Chatham Marine logo. They're also available in blue (been there, done that) or white, which is suddenly very appealing for that mediterranean look. No harm in having a second pair, of course...

They're extremely comfortable, surprisingly warm in the current grim weather, and curiously elegant for a casual shoe. More than anything, though, having a decently-made pair of deck shoes reminds me that these are really a feat of engineering, carefully designed for a potentially dangerous environment. If that makes them all the more enjoyable to wear season-round as a hard-wearing, versatile casual shoe then that's part of the joy of it, whether or not you actually ever find yourself on a boat.

Note: The shoes in this article were provided by Chatham Marine for review. No payment has been made for this post, and acceptance of items for review does not guarantee positive coverage.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Luxury: silk dressing gown

Long-term readers, or people who've delved into the archive, may remember this old post about my hankering for a Bertie Wooster style silk dressing gown with quilted collar and cuffs. Such things are still available, from a fairly small number of places, but cost many hundreds of pounds and often over a thousand, and even I cannot really justify that.

However, there are always ways and means, when it comes to this sort of thing, and last year I was fortunate enough to have just such a dressing gown made for me. The body is actually very fine wool, the lining a light blue silk, and the collar and cuffs also silk, painstakingly quilted and piped.
It's extraordinarily comfortable, very warm, and very beautiful. I don't know if that's particularly important given the small number of people that ever get to see it, but these days there are more occasions when wearing a dress gown to breakfast is not unacceptable, so it should at least be a nice one.

You may ask why, in this photo, I am wearing it over white tie. Well, aside from the fact that it's better than posting pictures of me in my pyjamas, and I was dressing for dinner in someone else's house, it seemed appropriate. You see, this sort of dressing gown is called a dressing gown for a reason. There is (or was) a difference between a dressing gown and a bathrobe that goes beyond the 'U/non-U', or the fact that as far I as am concerned a bathrobe is the sort of thing you only find in hotel rooms. No, a bathrobe is presumably designed to be worn while the wearer is still damp, and so is made of toweling or some other suitable material. A dressing gown, on the other hand, is intended to keep the wearing warm while dressing or undressing. It makes more sense, of course, in a time where rooms (particularly bedrooms) could be very cold, where servants might be nipping in and out, and where merely putting a shirt on could take 15 minutes and seven or eight individual pieces of gold and brass. These days, all that is less relevant, but the desire to wrap up in something warm and comfortable remains.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Perfect gift 2 - Made to measure shirts

Buying clothes as a gift is never easy. Not only do you have to be sure of getting the size right, but you have to guess at the style, colour, pattern and so on that will please the recipient. The more sartorially aware the man the harder, in many ways, it becomes. There's a good chance that if the chap you're buying for cares about clothes, he's developed a strong preference for, let's say, shirts with a medium cutaway collar, rounded French cuffs, no gauntlet button, lengthy tails, and only plain colours in end-on-end fabric.

If you can get all that right, you'll impress him no end, but your chances of guessing it are slim. That's not to say anyone ever really objects to a shirt that is not quite precisely what they would buy themselves, but there's something to be said for a gift that still gives the recipient the flexibility to make all those finicky choices that make it perfect for them. That's why I'm a big fan of the made-to-measure shirt gift that a few more suppliers are doing. They have the advantage of being easy to buy, easy to claim and, crucially, you only have to buy one. Many of the old-school shirtmakers have minimum orders of four or five shirts which makes them less than suitable for gifting.

Here's a selection:
Thomas Pink
Starting from £140, and going up to over £250, you just have to pick the fabric type you are prepared to pay for and then leave the rest for the gift recipient to choose. Of course, you need to have something for them to open on Christmas Day, so Pink provide a pair of brass collar stiffeners in a gift box, which act as the 'token' - quite a neat idea.

But are the shirts any good? Personally, it's not where I would choose to spend £140, but they're decently made from good cloth and this would make a particularly nice present for someone who already has a few off-the-peg Pink shirts and likes them.

Ede & Ravenscroft
Ede & Ravenscroft always used to do rather a nice gift shirt service, not dissimilar to the Pink one except that the 'gift card' came in the form of a length of shirting cloth in a box. This meant that you could still impose some of your own taste on the gift, by picking the cloth to use, with the advantage that in reality the recipient could still swap it for a different cloth when they came to have the shirt made up.
Of course, typically, as I come to write this post I can find no trace of this service on the E&R website, and only a newly expanded page about the made-to-measure shirt service. That said, I'm sure that they do still offer the gift option, or would be happy to do so if you asked.

As I recall, the shirts started at around £150, although most made-to-measure shirts at E&R are closer to £190. I'm a big fan of Ede & Ravenscroft shirts so this would probably be my gift shirt of choice, and they are certainly well-made enough that even someone who normally buys shirts at New & Lingwood or Turnbull & Asser would be unlikely to be disappointed with one of these.

Cad and the Dandy
Like a few of the more modern tailors, Cad and the Dandy offer gift vouchers, and you can buy one for any amount, meaning that you could either fully cover the cost of a tailored shirt (starting at £125) or, for a slightly more reasonable gift, give them some money towards one. I've never (yet) had a Cad and the Dandy shirt, but their suits are terrific and the shirts I've seen have been well-fitted and nicely made. That said, the voucher itself is a little unimaginative - an e-voucher that you can put in your own card.

Henry Herbert
Like Cad and the Dandy, Henry Herbert just offers a gift voucher for a 'bespoke' shirt (at £180), although they do at least come with quite an attractive voucher. The recipient can order online by entering their own measurements which is never ideal, but may be more appealing to someone who is busy or intimidated by the idea of going to be measured by a tailor. That said, the consultation stage is part of the experience and arguably the most fun bit, so I'd recommend organising a meeting with one of their tailors.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Perfect gift 1 - cufflinks

In the run-up to Christmas, here's one of a handful of posts I'll be doing looking at a great gift for the stylish man, and some different options to suit all budgets.

First up, cufflinks. They may be obvious, and some might even consider them a slightly staid choice, but given some thought and care they are perfect. Any well-dressed man needs them, and given the number of days per year when they can be worn, its hard to see how an extra pair will ever be unwelcome or unwanted. They can, with luck and care, last a lifetime or longer, and you have plenty of flexibility to show you've given some thought to the recipients particular taste and personality.

Reasonably-priced option
It's not easy finding a pair of cufflinks for less than £20-30 that I'd actually wear, but it's not impossible. TM Lewin do a wide range many of which are at best unexceptional and at worst hideous. However, they do offer one or two decent, plain, classic gold or silver ovals. My preference would probably be these which have the advantage of being sterling silver, reasonably elegant, and chain-mounted which is a rarity in this price bracket.

I'm personally not a fan of more showy or colourful cufflinks, but a discrete coloured enamel can work perfectly nicely, just be sure to avoid anything that comes as a set with a tie...

Mid-range option
If you're prepared to spend closer to £100, your options open up a lot. Smarter versions of the silver ovals mentioned above are available from, for example, Aspinal of London for £99, and can be engraved with initials for £20 more.
Image propert of Aspinal of London

Alternatively, Ede & Ravenscroft offer gold and mother-of-pearl cufflinks for just £75 (and the same again for a set of matching dress studs. Go on, you know you want to.)

Stretching the budget a bit further, New and Lingwood do a range of attractive enameled oval cufflinks for £250, here. As I've said, I'm more of a fan of plain gold or silver, but these are a classic style and suit many men very well. They're also not a bad bet if you know the man you're buying for already has the classic gold and/or silver chain-linked ovals, which many will.

Money-no-object
To my mind, the ne plus ultra of cufflinks for the well-dressed man are classic chain-linked ovals in 18ct gold, either plain or engraved with his initials. Rebus, who made my signet ring, offer a fine example here for a mere £1,860, or £1,920 including engraved initials. If that's too much, you can always go for 9ct gold for rather less, and I'm sure noone will mind. Either way, the best ones are made of decent thick chunks of gold and, in my opinion, have the advantage of being wearable with almost anything from full evening dress to a shirt and cords.

If you're looking for something a bit more unusual or showy, the independent jeweller De Vroomen in Belgravia makes some beautiful enameled cufflinks at a range of prices (all fairly eye-watering) and also does individual commissions.
Image property of De Vroomen